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DFL, GOP leaders agree to $373M public works bill

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A bill containing $373 million of construction projects funded by borrowing has been agreed to by state lawmakers – and included in it is money for a major rerouting of Highway 53 in Minnesota's Iron Range.

DFL Sen. LeRoy Stumpf and GOP Rep. Paul Torkelson hammered out a bonding bill at the Capitol on Wednesday, MPR reports.

It is one of several bills lawmakers will vote on when they meet in this month's special session, where they will settle on a state budget for the next two years.

Included in the bonding bill is $140 million to be used t0 re-build part of Highway 53 by Virginia, which will make room to allow a nearby iron ore mine run by Cliffs Natural Resources to expand.

A proposal for the project was put forward in November, and will involve the construction of a 1,100 foot long, 200 foot high bridge across the abandoned Rocheleau Pit.

What else is in the bill?

Torkelson described as a "nuts and bolts, infrastructure, get stuff done kind of bill," the Star Tribune reports

You can see a breakdown of the projects at this website, but here are some highlights.

Also included in the bill, according to a Sen. Stumpf's press release, is $26.5 million to build to build two animal science testing labs in Willmar and St. Paul, and another $26 million toward the ongoing refurbishment of the Capitol building.

Some $23.5 million will be given to the Department of Natural Resources for flood hazard mitigation projects, and $29 million will go to the Public Facilities Authority for wastewater infrastructure.

A further $31.9 million will be shared between the various institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The Star Tribune notes one controversial project proposed by DFL Senate Leader Tom Bakk – a $7.2 million, 30-stall parking garage at the Capitol – has been removed from the compromise bill.

Will the bill pass?

Sen. Stumpf said that although it isn't as large as he would like, the compromise bill "takes an important step toward fixing the state's most urgent projects."

The Star Tribune notes Gov. Mark Dayton had originally intended to undertake $800 million of debt-backed public works, but House Republicans stood their ground and wouldn't go further than the $373 million agreed upon.

By proposing a bill that they consider straight-forward and featuring little controversy, the lawmakers now hope it garners enough support from both parties to get the three-fifths majority needed for bonding bills to pass in Minnesota's Senate and House.

The special session was called after Gov. Dayton vetoed budget bills agreed upon by lawmakers for education, and environment and agriculture.

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